Humanitarian Crisis - Texas Prisons / Jails - Coronavirus (COVID-19)

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It is not a matter of if but when the coronavirus will enter prisons and jails in Texas. It has already entered the MANY Prison / Jail systems in the United States.

The consequences of that eventuality could be devastating. COVID-19 outbreaks in prisons and jails will spread like wildfire due to close quarters, unsanitary conditions, a population that is more vulnerable to COVID-19, and the large number of people that cycle through the criminal justice system.

The risk extends far beyond those who are incarcerated. COVID-19 outbreaks in jails and prisons threaten the larger public, as hundreds of thousands of individuals churn through jails on a daily basis, and correctional, medical and other staff interact with the incarcerated population and circulate back into communities. With 2.3 million people in the United States in prison or jail on any given day, an outbreak in these facilities poses a threat to the entire country.

Separating sick people from well people to prevent the disease from spreading can be nearly impossible in prison, since prisoners are grouped according to security and other logistical considerations. Even so-called social distancing can prove impossible. People in prisons and jails live every minute of the day in close proximity to each other. Many are housed in dormitories, sharing the same living space, toilets, showers, and sinks. 

Even where people are housed in individual cells, the ventilation is often inadequate. Bed sheets and clothes are washed infrequently. People in prison eat, sleep, shower and share living space with others creating the perfect breeding ground for coronavirus. 

To complicate matters, prisons and jails are often over-capacity, making quarantine impossible and making it easier for contagious illnesses to spread faster. Practicing even the most simple hygiene, such as washing hands, is not a given in such environments. Hand sanitizer is often treated as contraband because it contains alcohol. Even if incarcerated people have access to water, they often have nothing to wipe their hands on. 

To minimize further spread, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention suggests things like avoiding close contact with people who are sick, covering your mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and disinfecting frequently-used surfaces. However, in jails and prisons, access to toilet paper or tissues is often limited and covering your mouth can be impossible if you’re handcuffed, either because of security status or during transport to another facility.

For the sake of people in prison, of prison staff, and of our entire community, we must take significant action now.

The administration of correctional facilities, prosecutors, and executive must all act to limit and slow the spread of this infection in jails and prisons.

We must reduce the prison population.

• Particularly vulnerable people (older people, those with chronic illnesses, pregnant people, those with asthma, cancer, heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes etc) should be allowed go home to the care of their families. 

• We should release people in prisons and jails who are within six months of completing their sentence and assist people released from prisons with transitional plans.

• People with unaffordable money bails should be released. If a judge has given someone a money bond, it means that they’ve determined the person is cleared for release pretrial. Their ongoing incarceration due solely to access to money is deeply unfair and unethical, especially during this pandemic.

• No new people should be incarcerated on money bonds. Admission of as many people as possible should be avoided. 

• The courts should provide emergency bond reviews for all incarcerated people who request them with an increased mandate to use all options other than incarceration.

• Release and stop jailing anyone charged with an offense that does not involve a serious physical safety risk to a reasonably identifiable person. This includes technical violations of parole or probation regardless of the underlying offense, including failures to appear.

Basic health protections should be implemented within jails and prison.

• We must reduce the prison, and jail population to ensure that capacity is such that cells are not shared, there are sufficient medical beds, and enough prison staff to ensure safety for staff, those incarcerated, and visitors.

• We must provide soap, CDC-recommended hand sanitizer, medical care, comprehensive sanitation and cleaning of facilities and other safety measures as recommended by the CDC for those who remain incarcerated free of charge.

• Parole boards should be instructed to expedite release of those who have been granted parole and expedite new parole hearings. 

• Incarcerated people who test positive should be released to an external healthcare facility to receive care. 

• Solitary confinement is not a substitute for providing people in prison who are exposed to COVID-19 with proper medical care.

• We should provide separate bathrooms for use by people who are symptomatic.

• Ensure families and lawyers have access to regular communications channels with incarcerated loved ones or clients, including but not limited to phone calls, email, video conferencing, postage mail. Limits on calls, emails, and video conferencing should be greatly increased, the fees should be waived.

. We must PROTECT TDCJ Staff who are on the Front Lines who are working Mandatory Over time and MANY have NO GLOVES and are being told they cannot wear MASKS.

More than 20% of the Texas prison population is over the age of 50, the most at-risk population when it comes to the new Coronavirus. But the state prison system makes it difficult, and perhaps impossible, for some inmates take the basic precautions necessary to prevent an outbreak of the disease among the state's 140,000 inmates.

But one of the nation's leading prison experts and family members of inmates are calling on the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to do more to protect those inside, including allowing inmates to use hand sanitizer and bleach for cleaning and eliminating fees for soap and doctor's visits.

"The risks of this disease are incredibly huge. It's going to spread like wildfire," said Michele Deitch, a senior lecturer at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas.
Texas has 140,419 prison inmates. Nearly 30,000 are 50 or older. Older adults and those with chronic medical conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, are at higher risk of getting severely ill from the COVID-19 virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hand sanitizer and bleach are considered contraband among inmates — though guards are given hand sanitizer. Soap is available from the commissary for a fee: 1.25 oz. of antibacterial soap is 15 cents and 1.25 oz. of Dial soap is 20 cents. The fee may be small, but for the many inmates who are indigent, it's unaffordable.

Inmates must also pay a $13.55 fee per doctor visit, which prevents some from seeking health care.

Among the measures TDCJ is taking to prevent the spread of coronavirus is to ensure that potentially ill correctional officers don't bring the disease inside. That's especially challenging for an agency already short about 4,600 workers.

Here are some recent events:

Jennifer Erschabek, executive director of the Texas Inmate Families Association, wrote a letter to TDCJ Executive Director Bryan Collier and has spoken with other administrators on the phone. Among the measures she's requested: complete access to phones, free access to medical care for inmates displaying symptoms, careful screening of correctional officers and anyone entering the prisons.

"These are immediate things that TDCJ could do that would relieve some of the anxiety," Erschabek said.

In the longer term, Erschabek and Deitch said the Texas Board of Pardon and Paroles should expedite parole for eligible inmates.

"Just like in the free world, a lot of the hospitals are trying to empty out people who don't have to be there," Deitch said. "How are the prisons going to be clearing out their healthcare facilities to make room for this potential population?"

Family and Friends can call the TDCJ HOTLINE - 1-844-476-1289

A massive humanitarian crisis is in process. We must act now.

This Humanitarian Crisis is PREVENTABLE !!


We must
Contact | Office of the Texas Governor | Greg Abbott -  Governor Contact Number: (800) 843-5789. Telephone Number: (512) 463-2000

Bryan Collier
Executive Director
Texas Department of Criminal Justice - (512) 463-9988 - (936) 437-2101


Sandra Anthony